Reaction from the Council*
F. D. Nichol, (Editor, Washington, D. C.) : When this resolution came up regarding the shifting of certain responsibilities to lay shoulders, I felt I must say something, for I have seen a very graphic illustration of its possibilities during the last few years. Two or three years ago some of us got a burden to do something in the way of soul winning. We finally decided to start an effort in a suburb of Washington. We decided to call for some help from laymen, and got a splendid response. We drew some members from a large church where it was so crowded on Sabbaths that one could hardly find a seat. We received some protests about this, for we were accused of taking their finest members, etc. Be that as it may, they came with us, for they felt they were not accomplishing much of anything where they were.
We decided to organize a small church before our evangelistic effort started. So we called these folks together and selected the officers for the company. I did it with fear and trembling, for I didn't know what they would do; but I was constantly surprised at what they could and did do, and increasingly so over three years' time. They have done the work successfully. When we came to the Harvest Ingathering last year, I was a little fearful. I was away at the time, and the goal was getting larger with the membership. I felt distressed, and sent them a telegram. I did not want to wear them out, but I did want to see the new members get under the load. They had reached their goal on the second Sabbath after my telegram was delivered! So the plan is feasible.
Just a point on this question of financial possibilities. I have done some agonizing along with my brethren on how we are to reach our goals. Each year it has been harder. This is one of the difficulties when the church is growing in membership with its increased quotas. At first it is easy, when you have. just a few old standbys. I find the secret is this: We do not put on any more pressure; we do not talk much about drives and goals—I bend backward on that. I found the secret was in working all through the year preparing for baptism little groups we are not charged with until the next year. And we are happy meantime to have their tithes and offerings to apply on our goals.
In this way there is no problem with the goals. That church stands at the top in tithes and offerings. The church members are not worrying about the goals, but are holding Bible studies. More than fifty receive Bible studies every week from the lay members of that church. I feel encouraged over the whole trend of this emphasis. I would be the last person to vote for anything that would decrease tithes and offerings. I see no reason to fear that this proposed plan will. In fact, it is our only salvation. New members afford the best means to give inspiration to the older ones.
H. J. Capman (Evangelist, Brooklyn, N. Y.): I am very happy over this resolution. For ten years it has been my program to get the Ingathering over quickly. By the grace of God, for a number of years over five thousand dollars has been raised in our Albany district. Then we have been able to conduct an effort and to baptize forty, fifty, or sixty souls. The only way this has been possible has been by placing a great deal of the responsibility on the local leadership.
Our failure to transfer burdens to lay shoulders is a grave weakness in our organization. Very often, by putting laymen in places of responsibility we can save the day. If we can get good men as local elders, we certainly can carry out this resolution, and we ministers can then win more souls than we ever thought possible.
We should call these local elders together, start a course of training, and let them try their wings a bit, and not be too much afraid of the consequences. Then if we can go out and gather in a goodly number of souls, financial results will accrue that will be most gratifying. To have an influx of forty or fifty new believers, with their tithes and offerings, coming into a church or district, would offset what loss might at first be felt under the plan proposed. After a few years, as these laymen begin to feel the burden, we shall see a momentum that will put us in a stronger position than ever before in our history, not only financially, but in such a harvest of souls as never before has been thought possible.
J. K. Jones (President, Atlantic Union Conference): I am not one to jump to conclusions. I like to think a thing through before committing myself on it. And I think that should be true of every man who speaks to this question. It ought to mean something to make a speech on this resolution, and I feel that in committing myself on it I am virtually committing the whole Atlantic Union to this program. Our union will have turned in to the General Conference nearly $250,000 for missions in 1934. That is about 44 cents a week for every member in our union. Through the years we have built up a great interest on the part of our people in behalf of missions. I have given much thought to it, and I am too old now to lose my burden for the mission fields. I am glad there is nothing in this resolution that says we are to do less for missions, and I think every man here ought to know this before he votes for the resolution.
I believe we are doing the right thing when we attempt what the Lord says we ought to do. I do not hesitate to venture out on what the Lord says. We are in a difficult place. If you do not believe it, you will find it out when you come to carry out this resolution; but "le't me tell you, it is the thing to simply be applying the instruction the Lord has already given us, and should have been put into effect years ago. But we have not observed it, and that is why we are under such pressure now. We ought to delay no longer in putting God's program into effect.
Let us go back and at once begin to plan for the training of the lay leadership in our churches. In every conference we should plan definitely for lay workers' meetings. We should let the laity know that we are beginning a forward program, and not just stumbling around. Then when the campaigns for foreign missions are due, we will have our laymen trained to bear burdens in the raising of such funds.
This means that we are going back to impress upon our people the fact that we as preachers are not lessening our interest in the mission fields, but that we have a great burden for the evangelistic work at home, that we need their support, that we believe every new member should be taught to have his part in raising funds for missions, and that we stand ready to cooperate with our members in raising the Ingathering. Don't let the churches think we have deserted them. Any man who votes for this recommendation is committing himself to this program, and he is promising under God that his church will not do less in gathering in mission money, but that he will use every agency which God has appointed for this purpose.
H. J. Detwiler (President, Columbia Union Conference): The purpose of this resolution is commendable, and some of our most successful pastors and city evangelists are even now carrying it out. But it should be worked out in this larger sense. It is the most successful way of carrying out our denominational program, which I believe is divine in origin. If we lift our eyes to the world field, and carry out in the fullest sense the great commission that the Lord gave to us, the work will not be hindered. I am sure there is no thought in the heart or mind of the brethren that this resolution should militate against the mission advance that we want to make, but rather the opposite. The conference workers will have to get behind this program, and lay the burden upon the local churches, who will in turn look to the conference workers as the general leaders. It will be the minister's responsibility to organize his local forces so as to make this effective.
There is no group of workers in this cause who labor more earnestly than our city evangelists. They are carrying tremendous burdens. Many of them have in one city a population equal to one or more entire State in other sections. They have in one metropolis as many people to warn as a whole conference has elsewhere. And the only way we can warn these great centers is to organize our churches to help the ministry in the evangelistic as well as in all these other endeavors, These great cities are going to be moved with the proclamation of this glorious message, and I cannot but believe that this is one way the brethren are trying to lead us into larger evangelism for these cities.
We must not forget, however, that we are to support the WOFICUrthe ends of the earth, and that it takes ministers to do it. That is, ministers must be the leaders, the examples in all things. When it comes to the Ingathering campaign, in order for it to be successful, the minister must do his part, but not the larger part. No man can be truly successful who attempts that. He must still be the leader in order for us to put over the vigorous program we are carrying. But in that leadership he can more effectually use the local elders and the laity than before, and can do in weeks what we have heretofore taken months to do, if we are in earnest about it.
A. A. Cone (Evangelist, Providence, R. I.) : For six years this burden of evangelism has rested heavily upon my heart. As I saw the needs about me, I could see no way of evangelizing the section for which I am responsible under the present program, and have been deeply concerned about it. I have been studying our church possibilities from that viewpoint, and weighing the different problems that would likely confront us if the changes contemplated in this resolution were made. I should never be in harmony with any move destined to jeopardize what we have already built up, or that would endanger the interests of the work in foreign fields. I spent seven years in a mission land, and I came back with a vision of need that would never permit me to consent to retrenchment.
As I study this recommendation, I see some great possibilities in it. Aside from training our laymen for service, I wish to place before you some financial facts. Take the individual mission goal of 40 cents a week. Every new believer brought in is a prospect for helping to raise that money before he is counted on the conference quota. We expect every new believer, as soon as he has sufficient training, to raise $10 in Harvest Ingathering. Then we can count on an average of $1 a week tithe, making a total of $82.80 as the probable income from each new believer for the year.
Under the program contemplated, if I am able to bring in fifty members, who would not otherwise be brought in, note the effect on our yearly income to the cause. Even an average of $70 per year from fifty members would mean a financial gain of over $3,000. Now I believe that if a worker can engage in that kind of program for a year, he will doubtless produce more for the cause, even, in financial returns, than if he spent three months in actual soliciting by himself, for there are very few ministers who could bring in that much in actual soliciting. Then, when we consider his duplicating that the next year, and the next, and all these new members' helping in the local problems as well as in the foreign mission offerings, we have a prospect that I think ought to thrill us. That would not be a spasmodic income, but something fairly steady.
I realize that there are some real problems that will confront us in our churches. But I have noticed this for some years, that when we get the statistical reports from our conferences,—and I must admit that it has often shocked me,—the churches that have no pastors have often surpassed, in offerings to missions and in Ingathering, those that have had pastors. That which appeals most strongly to me in it all, is that I believe it to be God's program. If God says to go ahead, I believe all the other problems can be met. I don't believe God would want us to go ahead if there were no way out.
I have been tempted to feel that perhaps it would not be wise to turn our services over to laymen. But I have been astonished to see how many laymen have developed into most excellent workers. We were all laymen at one time. The reason we are more efficient today is because of the experience we have had —because somebody took a little risk with us. Most of us are so constituted that we shall never develop our church members until placed so we are practically forced to do it. Then, when we find that we must put responsibility upon them in order to carry out this program, we will begin to find in our brethren and sisters wonderful talents that we didn't realize they possessed.
I believe that if this is God's program, He will provide the leadership. As we go out in this evangelistic program, He will help us to find men and women who will become leaders. He will provide both men and means. If there is anything which will cheer the hearts of our brethren in all our churches, it is just this program. Their souls are starving for greater evangelism, and they will go down into their pockets to support it when they find that we are in earnest. Many a minister has lost the respect due the ministry on the part of the lay members, because he has spent his time in "serving tables." The pastor should lead out in the work of the church; but I believe a significant move has here been made, and I concur in this recommendation 100 per cent.
W. H. Branson (Vice-President for North America): This plan of operation will bring more funds into the church, through the new members won, so that we can press forward with our world program. Lay members can carry the details of much of this campaign work as strongly as the ministers, and with the preachers can help to bring in many new souls. Under such a procedure the denomination, in its foreign mission enterprise, will be millions of dollars ahead in a few years' time. Indeed, it is the only hope we see of materially building up this North American base of supplies so that we can advance on all fronts in the mission fields. As Brother Detwiler has said, the responsibility for the leadership of the church is with the minister. He is to direct and encourage. But through the new members that are brought into the church, more thousands of dollars will pour into the treasury, for all will want to have a part in rapidly advancing the work of God in the world.
We believe that this plan will not only bring in millions of dollars, but will give—under the power and blessing of God—the greatest impetus to our great world program. I believe we can double our membership in North America within a very short time. The preachers are the leaders, the responsible men in our churches. They will still be pastors. But, brethren, let us lay more of the burden upon the shoulders of the laymen, and let them know that we will cooperate in every way in helping them to carry on, and that they have our support and good will. Our preachers must learn how to get the most possible out of lay talent while at the same time carrying on large evangelistic efforts in the cities and towns, and so bringing new members into the faith. I believe this to be a safe plan. But we shall have to work together, as the union presidents have pointed out, and in a careful way study how to put this into effect, so that no mistake will be made. I believe there is great light in this for our world program.
* Response from the floor at Philadelphia Council after adoption of statement on Evangelism. (See March Ministry, p. 17.)